To input the Clouds, which took place as part of the recent Open House Melbourne programme, raises several questions: how can we broaden our understanding and experience of architecture and landscapes? And how might a large-scale public architecture festival engage the public in different ways?
Organized by Fleur Watson of Open House Melbourne and Tara McDowell of Monash University, the project paired creative practitioners with seven significant buildings and urban spaces across the city, with each practitioner submitting a work in response to their assigned site. Six local and two international practitioners presented contributions, complicating discussions around what architecture can mean in a global context. The exhibition adds to the more traditional range of self-guided tours, lectures and architectural tours that have made up the bulk of the Open House program each year.
There’s a lot of promise in the show’s premise – so much so that now that the program is complete, it’s easy to wonder why it hadn’t been done before. With a strong focus on data, insights, and performance in design domains, it’s important to consider how we might test other ways of having conversations that open up other possibilities and insights. Staging encounters between art and architecture seems to be a fruitful approach.
Across the wide diversity of installations and sites, I found the confluence of sound, visuals and sculpture in architect and artist Ying-Lan Dann’s installation animating the Mission to Seafarers dome particularly absorbing. Dann’s gesture of superimposing the shifting architecture of the sea onto the fixed structure of the dome through a sculptural screen and video project achieves a coherence and lyricism that materially elevates understanding of the complex’s formal, cultural, and geographic resonances.
The placement of existing video works by London research firm Forensic Architecture and American filmmaker Cauleen Smith in the Capitol and the Victorian Quaker Center has proven to be skillful curatorial actions. Forensic Architecture Documentary Cloud Studies investigation into the weaponization of toxic air. It led to a new look at the cavernous interiors of the Capitol – what had once seemed heavy and ornate, now light as a frozen cloud. I had a similar experience at the Quaker Center, where the light and forms of the circle of worship created a powerful setting for Smith’s Afrofuturist encounter while evoking a reflection on how architecture might contribute to the construction of ‘a utopia.
Other installations encouraged an understanding of architecture as fluid and relational, as places of evolution and exchange. This was particularly evident in the work of artist Julia McInerney, comprising black and white photographs, film and a series of subtle alterations to the interiors of the Villa Alba museum in Kew. First-time visitors to the villa might focus their attention on the aesthetics of the building’s 19th-century interiors, hand-painted under the direction of renowned Melbourne-based interior design firm The Paterson Bros. By contrast, McInerney’s images of the camellias evoke women’s often invisible labor – filtered through a memory of her mother mending broken flowers, the villa’s domestic functions, and the building’s lesser-known role as a former dormitory. for nurses.
If highlighting the invisible was a common thread among the works, artist Barkindji Kent Morris’ series of rainbow lorikeet images installed in the arches of St Kilda’s foreshore vaults have made a subtle shift in the reading of the site, honoring the resilience of native and indigenous birds. ways to take care of the earth. As cars passed along St Kilda’s busy Jacka Boulevard, the bold graphics of the signs – emerging from black and white to vibrant colors – asserted a permanent presence against the backdrop of an urban environment in rapidly evolving and increasingly hostile.
Beyond the exhibition spaces themselves, the route – the practical aspect of a distributed exhibition – forced visitors to trace their own path through the city. This necessity turned out to be surprisingly rewarding, characterized by the delicious discovery of many new and unknown aspects of the urban en route from site to site. One such moment for me happened as I strode from the Quaker Center towards Trades Hall. Winding through one of the many alleys, a ray of sunlight happened upon a construction site, illuminating a pile of crates and scaffolding that reflected, with astonishing fidelity, the irregular geometry of the city’s skyline. town. Ephemera and props in contrast to the more thoughtful contemplation of each curated installation, these moments were equally precious.
Take Hold of the Clouds is a refreshing addition to the Open House program – and I suspect there will be more iterations in the future. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the concept of distributed exposure is refined and progresses. Will the curators, for example, develop a more specific framework, including guest curators and specific themes? Will other disciplines beyond the creative arts be invited to respond? As issues such as climate change and urbanization make conversations around the design of the urban environment even more existentially important, experimenting with how art could enrich discussions around architecture can only encourage more fertile and nuanced deliberations on the city’s future.